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July 29, 2013 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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People Don’t Have Consciences:

I’ve never been one for the sweeping statement that over-generalises my point and ignores the nuances of a labyrinth of academic thought (audience guffaws), but the thing is, I’m wondering whether people really even have consciences these days. My own kicked in during third form after I threw an e2 bottle at a bin, missed, and broke a window. After a tormented weekend over which I pulled out around 30-per-cent of my hair, I marched to the dean and narked on myself. My conscience was clear.

As a hypothetical millenial with some hypothetical unrealistic millenial career goals and hypothetically similar-minded millenial friends, you’ve probably at some point thought: “If I am ever going to get where I want to be, I had better start ignoring my conscience and stepping on other people to get there.” You know what I mean. We were just starting to figure out right from wrong when we arrived at university. Personally, I was just starting to forgive my Year-Six nemesis who told her mother about the games of Spin the Bottle I orchestrated at age ten and got them shut down, but I’m a little different to you, so we’ll go with you.

I don’t need to faff about telling you the benefits of acting in cold self-interest. There are around five people in this city worth dating, and they’re dating your friends. Degrees themselves are worth less and less, so you have to set yourself apart. I toil on a (luckily for you) spasmodic basis in contribution to this magazine, and it’s not like I can put it on my CV: all I’ve really ‘contributed’ are dick jokes and (in a similar vein) whatever is written about me in the Salient water closet.

Maybe you need a reminder of how far you have come, by illustration of how far others have yet to go. The other day, my mother rang me to tell me that my brother (first-year, Auckland, no self-doubt, penchant for i love ugly*) had gone back there to start the second trimester. My initial confusion at the phone call resulted in this elaboration: he went out the night before, was woken for an early flight by our father (incandescent with accusations of grand theft nicotine), and eventually departed for the airport with a sixth-form girl having a nice sleep-in in his bed. Regrettably, this violated (a) our mother’s expectation that he respect her denial and not bring girls home, and (b) the unspoken rule that night-friends don’t make their night-friends have to leave through a living room and face a concerned parent and a dog with resting bitchface.

I’m not condemning the actions of consenting over-16s, but when I hear this story I think: “Perhaps this young man’s conscience is deficient.” I think my parents thought the same, albeit mingled with shock that a teen stereotype that wasn’t ‘orthodontically challenged virgin’ finally applied to one of their children. I also probably shouldn’t undersell my gratitude at getting an explanation for the text our other brother had sent me that morning—“I can’t listen to music loud because some cock gobler** [sic] is here and I haven’t eaten for thirteen hours and I just want to punch a hole in the wall.” You can’t make this stuff up. It would be reductive to take the moral as “even if you make the walk of shame at 11 am in a Fay Richwhite T-shirt,*** we might still be dealing with issues of conscience”, but it’s one possible interpretation.

Now, you see, we are gaining some momentum. You’re relatively conscientious, or at least, you’re better than that horrible story I just told. Don’t think that the only way to achieve anything with your life is to quash any instinct of whether your actions are right or wrong! You can’t just pretend any old voice in your head is your conscience. Take your self-doubt, for instance. There is a very real difference between, “You should not do this because you will not physically be able to say a safeword during autoerotic asphyxiation,” and, “You should not do this because you are stupid and doomed to fail.” Equally unsuitable for the position is that voice that tells you they’d be more compatible with you than they were with their ex. Your day-to-day internal monologue won’t do, either—it’s usually just all, “Feed me”, or, “Why am I only happy when the car-in-front’s indicator is in time with mine?” or, “I’m not asexual, I’m B-minus sexual, must remember to put that in a column.”

I want to believe that we use our consciences proactively, as opposed to retrospectively identifying things we perhaps shouldn’t do again. As such, I call upon you to take back your conscience. Because I live a fabulously misguided existence, I fully expect you to follow through. Start by addressing your guilt. I feel guilty a lot of the time. Some triggers are well-founded, like how I am attracted to Alec Baldwin. Others are even better-founded, like how I’ve ruined some excellent friendships by thinking with my… oh, this expression doesn’t really work for women. My oxytocin, maybe? My dilated pupils? Anyway. Acknowledge your shitty behaviour. Write it down. Wince at it. Assess whether there is realistically anything you can do about it.

Is there?

If there is, do it.


* If this sounds like your boyfriend, *puts on voice of human trafficker who personally abducted Liam Neeson’s daughter* good luck.

** Alleged, not confirmed.

*** I think you will find that the comedy is in the detail.

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